Homeless New Yorkers Have Their Say

September 16, 2016
Should sleeping in pubic be a crime? Not according to the Department of Justice.

Last month, the Department of Justice filed a brief arguing that “making it a crime for people who are homeless to sleep in public places, when there is insufficient shelter space in a city, unconstitutionally punishes them for being homeless.”

Still, here in New York City, which is facing a housing crisis and a record homeless population, the Mayor’s Office has recently responded with instructions to the NYPD to forcibly “clean up” areas of the city where homeless congregate, citing at least 80 locations which are scheduled for aggressive police “clean up”, according to the Daily News. 

Andrew Padilla, Filmmaker/Activist

Picture the Homeless and Vocal-NY, along with other groups and allies, gathered last week for a press conference and rally, demanding an end to rampant violations of the rights of homeless people by the NYPD.

Members of Picture the Homeless are New Yorkers living in shelters or on the street and their allies who actively work on campaigns to demand housing for the homeless, by identifying abandoned buildings and vacant lots and advocating to convert these spaces into affordable housing. In April, Vocal-NY released a report outlining ways to eradicate mass homelessness in New York City by 2020.

Some statements from Picture the Homeless members:

Cops have always messed with us, but in the past month it’s gotten really bad. Every time the shift changes, a new bunch of cops from the 25th precinct comes to mess with us, tell us to move, threaten us. If you try to tell them ‘I know my rights, I don’t have to move,’ they say ‘You’re going to move someplace, and if you don’t get out of here it’ll be someplace you don’t like.’  I think it’s happening because you’ve got all this new money coming to Harlem, and the new people don’t want to see us. They don’t want to be reminded. Where are you supposed to go, if you’ve been in Harlem all your life? They’re real careful not to give people tickets for anything. They don’t want a paper trail. They’ll take you to the ER, take you to the psych ward, leave you there. Let you find your own way back, but by then it’s a new shift and it’s someone else’s problem.

– Sarge, a homeless veteran who resides on 125th Street.


“The Mayor’s not doing things right. He needs to make us some housing instead of pushing poor people around. They want to make it hard for us to be in this city. We’re trying to get our lives together and they want to scatter us all over the place. I was born and raised in Harlem, and you used to be able to find an apartment no problem, no red tape. There used to be places working folks could afford, but now the landlords want so much money. So what are we supposed to do, if we’re poor?”

– Richard Thomas, a lifelong resident of the neighborhood who currently resides on the street.


“The NYPD isn’t interested in enforcing the law. You’ve got kids who come around assaulting homeless people in the middle of the night, and the cops don’t do anything about it because as far as they’re concerned, those kids are helping them do their jobs. I was in the park and someone was threatening me, and when I went to the cops they didn’t do anything about it because they know I’m homeless. And they need to stop saying it’s about K2, because it’s not. Some people smoke K2 but the cops just use that as an excuse to hassle everybody, threaten them, tell us to get out.”

– Angel L. Starks, a homeless woman who is visually impaired.